Valuations Update

So, I got an email this morning telling me that the Appraisal District had a counter-offer for my appraisal. It’s over three grand less than the original – so, not as much as I had asked, but a small victory over the government.

I accepted it so I don’t have to go meet the three old men that own the tax calculations and appraisals in person.

I consider this a victory for the little guy. I’d like to thank my Dad for telling me his protest story or I never would have tried it.

On the other hand, I live in one of the lower-value houses in the cul-de-sac. My neighbors may look down on me now. I’ll get over it.

Protest works. We should protest more.

Valuations

An interesting annual chore for a homeowner is reviewing the appraisal district’s valuation of your home. You would like a home to be worth a lot of money, so if you wanted to sell, you could turn a profit, buy a new house or retire to the Caribbean. However, you would like the appraisal district to think your house is worthless, since your taxes depend on their valuation.

In Dallas, the Dallas Central Appraisal District sends out letters every year, telling you how much they think your house is worth. They do this by pulling a number out of their ass when you purchase a home and then adding .001% below the maximum amount they can to your appraisal each year.

The State actually caps the amount your appraisal can rise over a period of time, but there are very good mathematicians at the appraisal district.

You can protest the appraisal, which basically means you have to tell the government your house is worth less than they think. Since they usually think it is worth less than the market does, this seems counter-productive, but it is worth the effort, since it may lower your taxes. For golfers or dieters, it will be easy, since you’re already used to giving a number much lower than reality.

My Dad actually went to the Appraisal District’s office one year to file a protest, and he is convinced they dropped their valuation just as a reward for his actually having found the office. Apparently, it was in the back of a fairly abandoned-looking strip mall in Garland, which is interesting since his house was in Dallas.

I was considering doing that, but it turns out it’s much easier now – you can file a protest online. This sounds easy, and it is, but there is a twist. You fill in the first page, choose a protest reason (“You said my house is worth too much!”) and click Next.

Then, comes the fun part. You get to upload your documentation. Since my documentation was my having said “Good Freakin’ Lord! They raise my taxes every year!”, I was stuck.

So, I pulled the valuations from all the houses on my street, threw out the higher valuations since they didn’t help my case, built a spreadsheet and showed my house is worth more than the median value on the street. Maybe it is, I say it isn’t. Mainly because that’s the only argument I can make. Plus, it’s in an Excel spreadsheet, so it must be true.

If you actually go through the pain of building a spreadsheet and uploading it to their website, the next page says you may be eligible for a settlement – how much do you think the house is worth?

Now, the first thought is to say the house is worth $15, but that’s not going to fly. So, since my Dad  had said he thought they knocked ten grand off his valuation just because he managed to find their office, I took eight grand off mine just because I managed to create a spreadsheet..

We’ll see what happens.

Funkytown

Just found Funkytown by Lipps, Inc. on #SoundHound for Android.
http://www.soundhound.com/?t=0379c77712baa43f313cd8cc2f139dda

I posted this more for myself than anyone else – it was playing on whatever generic radio station the dentist’s office was playing (seriously, there’s a reason KNON was voted Best Radio Station for Music two years running by the Dallas Observer), but hearing it gave me a flashback to college.  Specifically, to Fiesta San Antonio and the beer stand I was working that was right next to the carnival ride that had this as the background music. Twelve hours of Funkytown a day, for four or five days. Wow.

I always assumed Lipps, Inc. was a one-hit wonder because some carny  ran their van off a cliff after hearing Funkytown twelve hours a day at work while trying to sell hot dogs or get people to lose their life savings at the ring toss.

Sports Marketing

I don’t understand sports marketing, specifically the AirHogs. They changed mascots this year, from Ace Bacon (a fighter pilot pig) to Scout, a blob that’s supposed to be a fighter pilot pig. Apparently, a realistic fighter pilot pig scared children. WTF?

Scout looks like Dodger, the Ft Worth Cats old mascot. Allegedly, it’s the same person inside. He is an asshole. He seems to think people come to the game just to see him. While this is probably a requirement if your job is to look like an idiot in a blob suit, it is contrary to reality.

Sports should not need additional attractions – it is the attraction. I understand baseball is a lengthy game, and there are many details, but that’s what baseball fans expect. If your kids get bored, there should be attractions for them away from the action. Out of sight, out of mind.

Scout is for the children. He needs to take the children Pied-Piper style out of the way. However, since Scout’s human inside thinks he is the center of the universe, he leads the children by running up and down the home dugout with a t-shirt. All the children are screaming for the t-shirt. Scout is the center of attention. His life is fulfilled.

There’s only one problem. It’s the bottom of the ninth, and the home team is behind. This is when the fans want to watch the game. The most expensive seats? Just behind the home dugout. The seats where you can’t see or hear? Just behind the home dugout.

This is obviously a disconnect. The front office is trying to get people to the game, and then prevents them from actually enjoying it.

If you think a blob chasing children is required to sell tickets to a baseball game, you either spent too much time in marketing classes, or you have no faith in your product. Either can be deadly. It’s why Shreveport has had so many teams fail.

The Metroplex has the Texas Rangers, the Frisco RoughRiders, the Grand Prairie AirHogs, the Ft Worth Cats and probably more smaller teams.

How do you sell minor-league, unaffiliated baseball in a town that has a pro team that’s been to the World Series twice lately?

Here’s my thoughts:

Can you meet Rangers manager Ron Washington after the game? Probably not. The AirHogs manager will be in the bar by left field after the game. He lives baseball. Ask him what you want to know.

Want to meet the players? Frisco players sign autographs at given times. AirHogs players (and many opponents) eat dinner in the bar after games. They’re very gracious with their time. Buy them a drink.

Can you sit in a front-row seat for less than $15? You can in Grand Prairie. Try that in any pro sports in the area.

Grand Prairie has affordable, accessible professional baseball. Nobody else (except the Cats) has all three.

Why isn’t that the marketing plan? Why aren’t baseball games being marketed to baseball fans?

I never went to major league games with any regularity because it was too expensive to get good seats, and getting in and out of Arlington is painful. We went to a RoughRiders game and it was fun, but the traffic was horrific. In Grand Prairie, we found a team that was accessible both personally and geographically.

The whole point of playing unaffiliated ball is to get moved to affiliated, then to the majors. So, they actually play ball. There are more triples than in any other level of baseball because its all out.

So, accessible, affordable, professional baseball played by people with something to prove.

Why again do I need a blob to excite me?

Baseball for Baseball’s Sake

I’m becoming an old fart. Some will say I’m already there. Specifically, I’m an old fart baseball fan. They’re the worst kind, actually.

You would think the most annoying part of a baseball game to an old fart baseball fan would be the umpires. You would be incorrect. The most annoying aspect is other fans.

Why? Because they are not fans. They are barely spectators.

I do not understand why people pay good money to purchase a ticket to something they don’t care to watch. If you don’t care about baseball, why do you go? You can find beer in other places that don’t have an eight-dollar cover charge.

Because people don’t want to watch the game, the team does all sorts of things to entertain the crowd. This includes having a blob mascot run up and down the top of the dugout to get the crowd into the game. My seats are just behind the dugout. So, I can’t see the game since the blob is right in front of me. So, I’m being punished because other people won’t watch.

Do the fans a favor. If you don’t care about the game, DON’T GO. You’re loud, you’re distracting and you’re wasting your money. Don’t take your kids to teach the teamwork. You’re teaching them ignoring the game is fine.

Baseball is the only major sport that has predictable pacing. Other than the teams changing sides at the middle or end of innings, an injury or a pitching change, the game goes on. It is easy to follow. You know where the pitcher is going to pitch. If you’re fanatical, you can keep score. You can keep yourself immersed in the game. You just have to pay attention.

This is especially true in the minors, where games aren’t usually televised. There are no TV time-outs. The game just plays.

So, I don’t think true fans need mascots. Or t-shirt guns. Or beer barrel races. They need the game to unfold in front of them, so they can enjoy it.

If you don’t understand baseball, watching the game will help you learn. Watching the mascot will not.

Can’t we go back to a time when fans watched the game? Maybe “in the old days”, people paid attention because they had to skip work to go to a game.

I miss those days, and I wasn’t even there. (That is the definition of an old fart, by the way.)

First Game

The AirHogs dropped the first game of the season to Winnipeg last night. It was a close game, with good pitching and decent offense – the AirHogs need to put some hits together. The best part of baseball is that they can try again tonight.

Plus, El Paso has already lost two games, so we’re not even in the cellar.

Season Tickets … At last

Things not to do ever again:

  • Never leave town for two weeks vacation just before the start of baseball season.
  • Never have multiple deaths in the family at the beginning of a year (or anytime, really.)
  • Never change managers at work just as you’re trying to figure out if you made the right career choice in 1982.

If you do, you may suddenly realize the day after the Meet & Greet that you haven’t actually paid for your season tickets yet. Oops.

That’s done,  now. We thank the team for their patience.

We’re paid up. We’re ready. Season opener is May 17th – as in, a week from tomorrow. That was closer than usual.

50 home games again this year. Same seats, same manager, mainly different team. It should be interesting. It always is.

Inaugural Crossing

I must have been on a different ship than the people complaining about the Norwegian Breakaway Transatlantic crossing. I suppose part of the issue is the level of expectations.

Technically, she wasn’t even the Norwegian Breakaway until yesterday when she was christened (I know, it’s a real technicality, but nonetheless.)

The inaugural crossing was not even the “first cruise” (which I found hilarious when I discovered this.) The “first cruise” is the first trip from New York City to Bermuda with paying passengers, even though there have been two cruises with paying passengers previously.

I did not realize when I convinced my wife to switch from a Panama crossing to the Transatlantic crossing, but the inaugural cruise is a 3400-mile test drive. They knew she floats and she survived the overnight from Rotterdam to Southampton, but the Atlantic crossing was the first “real” test.

I think she passed. The staff was wonderful, after a couple of days, the weather almost cooperated and everything (for the most part) seemed functional.

It’s difficult to enjoy all the outdoor activities and amenities when it’s cold. This would have required a bit of pre-planning. It’s the North Atlantic. In April. It’s not going to be Caribbean weather. So, there were a lot of people indoors. (I went on the deck, just because I don’t mind the weather much.)

I didn’t visit the Garden Cafe because I’m too lazy to get my own food (especially when it’s probably food some other passenger picked up, sniffed and put back.) So, can’t review the buffet, but the restaurants were good.

We ate at almost all of the speciality restaurants, so many will consider us elitist. I just happen to like Le Bistro, my wife loves Italian and who could pass up Ocean Blue? It’s from an Iron Chef, who answers his Tweets.

The food service was slow, but this was the first time the staff was trying to produce the quantity of food required for a 3/4 full ship. Expectations, people.

I do think a lot of people take inaugural cruises just so they can bitch about everything that isn’t working yet (see the Norwegian Epic on her crossing or the Carnival <whatever> that had her first sailing this week.)

My wife and I were on this cruise because we wanted to cross the Atlantic like our ancestors did (well, my Grandfather didn’t have a balcony, but still.) When we saw the ship was arriving at 8am, we assumed we would be in port much earlier – based on earlier cruises. We were correct. We sailed under the Verrazano at about 3am. We were on the deck, taking photos. It was cold, the photos are a bit blurry, but it was an experience.

When we saw the level of hoopla scheduled for NYC after arrival, we assumed we wouldn’t be considered “the first” even though we were the first ones on the ship. Expectations, people.

She’s a beautiful ship. The staff was amazing. You can actually go outside on any number of decks – unlike the Norwegian Epic, which we sailed last Christmas.

Kevin Sheehan, Norwegian’s CEO,  is a very nice person (we kept running into him), and one of the better speakers I’ve heard.

We made more friends on this journey than on any of our other cruises (this was number five.) All the people we met seemed to understand the concept of “inaugural.” Maybe we were just lucky.

I was concerned about the number of staff it was going to take to pull my wife off the ship, but she was sleepy, so it wasn’t as difficult as feared.

I would take another Transatlantic crossing any time. I don’t think I can make the Getaway since we’re going on the Jewel just before Christmas, otherwise, I would have booked by now.

We will be going to Bermuda at some point, just to get back on the Breakaway.

Explorations

From June 1, 2001, originally. That was after a plane flight across the Atlantic. It still seems appropriate after sailing across the Pond – since sailing is a much more civilized way to travel than flying.

I crossed the ocean
And it crossed me.

Where am I?
I know the planet is Earth,
Since that’s what we call it.
I know the time
(As much as anyone could know)
But I’m still lost and floating
Home seems an eternity away.

Long ago, the brave crossed oceans,
To conquer and explore.
But today it doesn’t take courage,
Just an expense account,
And another meeting to attend.

Travel is no longer an adventure
(If ever it was before.)
This is just routine, almost tedium,
At five hundred miles per hour.

The oceans pass underneath,
And continents appear.
I’m in a crowded metal tube,
Trying to find a reason for it all.

I left my house to cross the globe,
But the website is still up,
And email downloads still.
Am I really gone?